While critical reception for the Need for Speed series has certainly fluctuated over the years, EA's long-running racing franchise has managed to excel in one area time and time again: the ability to keep people guessing about what the next game will offer. Need for Speed: Shift is the latest in the series to keep fans on their toes, foregoing the heavy narration and exaggerated physics of last year's Undercover in favor of realism, realism, and more realism. But even as the series moves from police barricades to clean takeovers, time trials and circuit races aren't the only thing you'll see in Shift. Yesterday, EA dropped by the GameSpot office to show--among other things--the new drifting events.
Drifting appeared in Need for Speed as recently as 2007's ProStreet, so this particular racing discipline is hardly new to the series. But along with a new development team in Slightly Mad Studios, Shift uses an entirely new physics engine, so the way cars feel and handle as you glide through these prolonged curves is an altogether different experience from drifting in previous games.
The way it all works is fairly simple. Certain location in the game, be it Silverstone Circuit or the streets of London, offer a number drifting-specific layouts that feature a handful of wide curves on a point-to-point course. As you approach these curves, you jam on the handbrake button and watch as your rear-wheel drive car tails to the side, and from there it's a delicate balance of counter-steering and light breaking or accelerating in order to keep your vehicle skidding sideways while maintaining momentum. Down the line, more technically advanced courses add straight-aways filled with obstacles like hay bales to negotiate with.
You're ultimately judged by a combination of how quickly you complete the course and how much drifting you actually do. On the track you'll see the usual green line that lets you know the ideal path to take through a corner, plus a much thicker, drift-specific line that acts as a sort of scoring zone to tell you where you'll need to stay in order to achieve maximum points. The physics during these events have also been tuned to allow for easier drifting, so if for some reason you decide to drive through the corners as though they were a normal track, you'll find yourself skidding around without much effort.
That being said, there's still a distinct learning curve to these events. On my first attempt at drifting--which took place in a Toyota Corolla GTS--I found myself overdoing it with the handbreak, resulting in disastrous 180s and occasional confrontations with the wall. But as I continued to plug away at it, I got a better feel for how much to counter-steer and when to best hit the gas during the turn. I was still pretty awful at it, mind you, but I definitely gained a better appreciation for what it takes to really master these events.
Slightly Mad Studios must be confident in players' ability to figure out drifting, because these events haven't been relegated to quick race options; they're right there in the career mode alongside all the other traditional events. Your success in drifting is just as important as any time trial if you want to get the most out of your racing career in Shift. How does that work, exactly? Funny you should ask. The progression of your career as a racer was the other focus of yesterday's demo. All that information will be coming to you next Tuesday, so stay tuned.